Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fuel For Fear

I chose a Smith's gas station.  I figured that in 4 months of living here using my Smith's grocery card, with no car of my own, I'd probably amassed a good discount on Smith's gas.  Was the place closed though?  The booth was dark, no other cars were in the lot; but then it was 11pm.  I drove in and found that paying by card was still possible.

After fighting with my rewards card a few minutes, everything started flowing normally.  I had just decided to stop the pump (it's the company car, I didn't think I needed to fill it entirely) when around between the two pumps a guy appeared and asked for $0.40 to make a phone call.

I froze, scared into silence.  The only thing I could think was to extricate the car from the pump and get going.  The man said something about not trying to scare me or something and, to his credit, he did not approach me further.

"If you don't want to, you can just say" he offered.

It's not that I wouldn't have given him $0.40.  It was the threat I felt, even though, in retrospect, he didn't seem to pose one.  If the money had been in my pocket, I would have fished it out, though I would have felt scared to go close enough to him to hand it over.  The change was in my bag in the car though.  That meant I would have had to turn my back on him, and climb partially into the car to retrieve it.  The thought of letting him out of my sight so close to me was overwhelming.  What if he had a gun?  What if he attacked me?  But more to the crux of what I was feeling, "what if I feel more fear?"

Perhaps those thoughts sound over the top.  It's sad for the many people who are safe in this world that they may get reactions of fear directed towards them because of the acts of few others.  I felt bad (after getting over the fear) that this man, whom I otherwise would have helped, instead got a fearful picture of himself mirrored back.  I hoped he wouldn't think it was because he had brown skin.  I've been fearful of white women in similar situations.  Still, safe doesn't mean aware or acting in smart ways.  He could take home the awareness that approaching someone late, in the dark, without anyone else around, can produce fear. 

It's been pointed out to me that I had a gas nozzle in my hand which would have been an effective deterrent should it have come to that.  I suppose this is true, but in the midst of the "fight, flight or freeze" reaction, this isn't something that would have occurred to me.  Had it, my thinking would have befuddled the idea in that I would still have had to turn my back on him, get partially into the car, and then go near him to give him the change -none of which would have made toting a gas nozzle plausible.  And it brings up another aspect which is that I was embarrassed that I was afraid of him.  I didn't want him to know.  I thought it would offend him -and people's reactions to me when they are offended upset me.

"Yeah... not right now."  I replied.  "Thanks for being cool."

I was thanking him for not getting mad at me for my reaction and my refusal to help.  I was thanking him for offering me not just a way out, but a way to talk, to end the situation and the fear, which I couldn't come up with myself.

I wonder that people who find themselves the recipients of my fear would lay responsibility for this issue back on me.  I agree that my fear is not always applied to harmful situations, and I am working on it.  But one can't choose when to apply fear to situations that are similar in make up.  Those who intend to do harm don't approach you with that intent clearly stated.  And fear is a chemical reality.  When the pathway gets triggered, there it goes.  It isn't a choice.

I expect it then comes down to whether or not you/I want someone to have to deal with potential fear, regardless of whether we are intending harm.

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